PSA: A new literary-inspired webseries based on Dracula just started on Youtube: Episode 1 is up. “Mina Murray’s Journal” is loosely based on the book but it looks intriguing!
We are at the halfway point for our Dracula readalong so it’s SURVEY TIME. Comment with your answers or with a link to an answer post on your website. Try to keep spoilers only through Chapter 14 in your answers (that’s where we will be on Tuesday).
1. What has been the biggest surprise for you so far, in terms of plot, characters, tone, anything and everything? 2. Who is your favorite character so far and why? 3. Do you like the format of the book – how it’s made up of various fictional documents by the different characters? Why or why not? Do you think it’s effective? Why or why not? 4. Has anything about the book turned you off /annoyed you specifically? Eg Victorian attitudes, a character’s personality, etc. 5. Why do you think Dracula goes after Lucy, rather than Mina? 6. Where do you think the story will go from here, OR where do you want the story to go from here?
I hope you’re all enjoying the book to some degree so far, especially those of you reading for the first time! I’m having a great time rereading it – I’m noticing a lot of things I haven’t before.
“We are hedged in with difficulties.” – Jack Seward
We get one “new” perspective in this section, albeit a short one, with the letters concerning the shipment of boxes. I love how the delivery company is like “yeah sure we’ll deliver these giant boxes to this “partially ruined building” (119), it’s your business if your stuff gets ruined from exposure.” These foreigners don’t know how to care for their possessions, am I right.
Dracula has been MIA lately, unless that’s him as a bat/large bird (???) that is outside of Lucy’s window a couple of times (116/117). I wish the dates in the book were more consistent, because it would be fun to line up Renfield’s behavior with what Dracula might be doing at the time based on what’s happening with Lucy.
I really enjoy Seward’s understatements regarding Renfield, eg “a strong Man with homicidal and religious mania at once might be dangerous” (123) and about his mood swings: “it would almost seem as if there was some influence which came and went” (131-2).
Anyway, back to our friends.
“Some of ‘New Woman’ writers will some day start an idea that men and women should be allowed to see each other asleep before proposing or accepting. But I suppose the New Woman won’t condescend in future to accept; she will do the proposing herself. And a nice job she will make of it, too!” (110-111)
The New Woman that Mina refers to was the term used to describe the emerging group of women, mostly middle class, who were interested in crazy things like voting or working or simply being independent. I can’t really tell how much Mina approves or disapproves of the whole idea. DISCUSS?
Jonathan is back, our dear Jon full of all “his sweetness and gentleness” (123). some of the images in this book are great, and Jon running into the train station screaming about monsters is one of them. I like how Mina feels secure about “no other woman” (128) being in between her and Jon, but the argument can be made that there are THREE women and a man between them. It’s probably fine though. JUST READ THE DAMN JOURNAL, MINA.
I’m impressed with Stoker’s choices of perspectives. For example, I’m glad we don’t get Arthur or Morris (maybe later, I forget). Seward’s perspective is enough to show us all of the Lucy Fanclub feelings, and his job as mental asylum doctor is a lot more plot-relevant than anything Arthur or Morris are doing. I’m also glad we don’t get Van Helsing (maybe later, I forget), as it would kill a lot of the slow-build suspense that is working really well at this point in the story.
I was trying to find out info on chloral hydrate, the thing Seward is taking because he is incredibly emo and upset over Lucy (124). Apparently it’s an early sedative, which sounds totally fine to take to cure insomnia. Don’t do drugs, Jack.
The blood transfusions are really interesting and horrifying. BLOOD TYPES ARE A THING. But it’s interesting how much importance they place on the act; Jack continues to have no chill about anything: “Jack has absolutely no chill “No man knows till he experiences it, what it is to feel his own life-blood drawn away into the veins of the woman he loves” (154) and Van Helsing is concerned that Arthur will be jealous if he knows Jack has also given Lucy blood.
Speaking of Van Helsing, THIS GUY. One of the first things he said in his first letter makes my head spin:
“Tell your friend that when that time you suck from my wound so swiftly the poison of the gangrene from that knife that our other friend, too nervous, let slip, you did more for him when he wants my aids and you call for them than all his great fortune could do.” (137)
I have no idea what he’s saying, there. Who sucked gangrene from where because who was dropping a knife? How would sucking it from a knife help, I don’t understand, send help.
Jack’s letter: “Everything is fine pretty much”
Arthur: *BURSTS INTO THE ROOM* “DON’T LIE TO ME”
Van Helsing: “Great we need your blood”
But Van Helsing is a really helpful addition to their crew, seeing as no one has the first clue what is going on, except maybe Renfield, and no one is giving that guy the time of day. I mean, at least he knows the useful properties of common garlic.
I had to google “the smuts of London” (138) because I had no idea what Van Helsing was saying but it sounded dirty. I guess I was sorta right.
Seward quotes “The unexpected always happens” (132) which is helpful to remember in many situations including but not limited to when your friends are being hunted by vampires. If you’re unfamiliar with Benjamin Disraeli, he’s a pretty important Victorian-era dude.
I haven’t seen a decent movie adaptation of Dracula yet (although I’m a huge fan of Nosferatu, against all odds) and it’s upsetting how much material there is in the book that would be perfect in a movie and hasn’t been used yet. I am terrible at fancasting (some of these are tongue-in-cheek) but I’m going to go for it. Feel free to comment or link me with your own choices!
In Order Of Appearance:
Shawn Ashmore as Jonathan Harker
Daniel Craig as Dracula
Eva Green as Mina Murray
Lily James as Lucy Westenra
Tom Hiddleston as Jack Seward
Chris Pratt as Quincey Morris
Richard Madden as Arthur Holmwood:
I left out some characters we haven’t met yet. This fancasting is super white, too: I went with Typical Hollywood Fare if that’s not obvious. I might do another one and/or a POC one when we’re further along.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll keep mentioning that communication (through whatever medium) as power is a huge theme in this book. Dracula knows it, when he makes Jonathan write letters to mislead anyone looking for him and when he takes away all of Jonathan’s paper along with his luggage (54). I really enjoy the different forms of journals or diaries that the various characters use, eg Jonathan and Mina with stenography, Dr. Seward with the phonograph (74).
Speaking of Dr. Seward, we haven’t seen any memorandums for a while but he’s got one: “Mem. Under what circumstances would I not avoid the
pit of hell?” (75).
Why is he asking this to himself, especially at this point in the story where all he’s doing is sitting around being sad about Lucy and watching Renfield? DISCUSS.
Lucy Westenra is hilarious and great but also terrifying. I’m curious why Dr. Seward says that Lucy “is a curious psychological study” (69), as quoted by Lucy. Is it because he’s in love with her already or because there’s something about her that is interesting?
I mean, Lucy is a pretty odd girl. When Seward is trying to propose and is FIDGETING WITH AN EXTREMELY SHARP SURGICAL INSTRUMENT (70) Lucy just thinks it’s adorable. She’s also considers hanging out in graveyards as totally normal for respectable young ladies (to be fair, Mina’s right there with her on that one).
I love that the other supporting characters are first introduced as Lucy’s gaggle of suitors. “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?” (73). QUESTION, do you think Lucy is secretly really pleased and vain that she has so many boys falling for her? Or is she honestly upset that she has to hurt at least two of them? DISCUSS.
Seward: Lucy rejected me, I guess I’ll go study my favorite madman to make myself feel better. Morris: Lucy rejected me, I guess I’ll invite her other boyfriends to a barbecue! Holmwood: I am so good I can express myself by telegram.
Lucy’s clearly got problems, though. When Mina’s describing her sleepwalking and says, “there is an odd concentration about her which I do not understand” (90), I got chills. First of all, yikes, and second of all, is Dracula influencing Lucy in some way? She starts sleepwalking before Dracula even (presumably, if we judge by the ship’s arrival) gets to England. DISCUSS? IDK.
Mina mentions practicing her observation skills and writing everything down, just like lady journalists (67) which is probably my favorite thing any Victorian heroine has ever said, but that’s beside the point. Is the implication that Mina is the correspondent who writes the article for the Dailygraph? In previous readings, I assumed she was just pasting in the shipwreck article and the captain’s log because it was relevant, but now I think it is written by her. Otherwise it doesn’t make sense for the article writer to mention what Swale said. Right??? Hashtag internalized misogyny because I assumed anyone writing an article would automatically be a dude. DISCUSS.
Mina doesn’t have the same kitten-like appeal to everyone around her the way Lucy does, but she still seems to attract good friends, eg the old dude Swale. And if she DID write the Dailygraph article, she managed to convince the guys in charge to let her take down the captain’s log, even though it seems like that would be classified to whatever investigations are going on.
We haven’t seen much of Renfield yet, but he seems suitably terrifying and disgusting. I honestly can’t remember anything that happens with Renfield later on, but he definitely has a vampire-like tendency of eating things for their energy, for whatever reason.
We haven’t seen Dracula for a while, but am I correct in assuming the giant dog that runs off the ship is Dracula in disguise? Or am I crazy? DISCUSS.
There are a couple references in these chapters to early Victorian poetry, if you want some further reading:
“Casabianca” (also known as “The Boy Stood On The Burning Deck”) by Felicia Dorothea Hemans is appropriately terrifying and sad, and also involves a lot of people dying on a boat.
“Marmion” by Sir Walter Scott is a fairly long poem that I …have not read. Judging by the plot, it’s moderately scandalous! Let me know if you read this and if there are any interesting parallels to Dracula.
I am a pumpkin disguised in human skin, and it should come as no surprise that fall is my favorite season and September/October are my absolute favorite months. There are a few books I love rereading this time of year, whether because they’re school-themed or Halloween-themed or are plain good and cuddly like a spicy latte. Since I am a scifi-loving pumpkin, the recommendations below are all on the speculative fiction/SF&F side of things.
Grab a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils and enjoy the new school year at one of these magical schools:
“Magisterium” started a couple years back and is still ongoing – it’s definitely part of a wave of books reacting or responding to the Harry Potter series, even though that finished years ago. The first book, The Iron Trial, manages to smash in everything I wanted from Harry Potter but didn’t get, and the authors aren’t afraid to push the envelope in storytelling, diversity, etc.
Girl goes to knight school, is picked on by all the boys, kicks ass, becomes ass-kicking lady knight….I can’t imagine why I would love “Protector of the Small” series by Tamora Pierce. But even besides the ass-kicking, Kel, the protagonist, is such a GOOD character and is constantly looking out for those smaller or weaker than herself. It’s fun watching her slowly form her group of besties and supporters, and seeing her bring out the best in other people. Also, yeah, the kingdom of Tortall is a really fun world to read in, as there are lots of knights, monsters, magic, drama, etc.
I have to mention “Chrestomanci” because it’s Diana Wynne Jones, but the school in it is much smaller and more elite than most fictional magical schools. DWJ does dysfunctional family relationships like no one else, but the characters always survive and grow and change in spite of it, and form their own crazy families if need be. The first published book in the series, Charmed Life, is hilarious and dark and features SO MANY DRESSING GOWNS.
Prepare for the scariest night of the year with these chillers:
I love vampire stories where the vampire is in fact a terrifying clever evil monster, and Dracula is the best at it. This classic by Bram Stoker also has a great cast of non-vampire characters and a slow-build mystery plot. We are also doing a readalong of this one
Honestly Frankenstein by Mary Shelley makes me uncomfortable and sad, but it’s really well-done if you want a horrifying tragic psychological mad scientist fairy tale from hell.
I don’t always love Neil Gaiman but I do consistently love his kids books (see also: Coraline, Odd and the Frost Giants, etc ). The Graveyard Book is based on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books, except it’s set in a graveyard and the boy has been raised by ghosts. It’s the perfect mix of heartwarming and terrifying.
All Hallows Eve by Charles Williams is a weird book. The primary protagonist is a ghost woman who has just passed away, but there are other sections from the point of view of characters still living, and all the stories overlap, whether they are taking place in the afterlife version of London or in the physical, “real life” London. There’s a plot to do with some occult plotters, too. IT’S A WEIRD BOOK, OKAY, but really very good.
My ultimate favorite fall-related read is The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope.
I reread this book every Halloween because it is ridiculous and fun and magical. It’s historical fiction set right before the reign of Elizabeth I in England, about one of Princess Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting, Katharine. Katharine gets sent into exile to an isolated estate and proceeds to get in trouble with the locals, the lord, his staff, and the mysterious people from under the hill. There’s a lot of banter and a surprising amount of Thick Tawny Golden Hair. It’s an excellent remix on the Tam Lin legend, too.
I focused on speculative fiction for these recommendations, but rukbat3pern on Twitter pointed out that Persuasion by Jane Austen is the perfect autumn book (and is also one of my favorite books of all time).
So in chapter 4 as we’ve seen, Jonathan continues to have a horrifying time. I think it’s weird that Jonathan mentions that the vampire ladies want to suck his blood, though (51)? They only talked about kissing in the last scene, and based on Jon’s reaction to the mirror-throwing I assumed he would assume they were talking about actual kissing. The vampire ladies also appear to be able to morph to/from dust (56), unless that’s just Jonathan hallucinating as they approach? What do you think?
Jon is a newbie in terms of vampire lore, as we see again when the Szgany are unloading the “great, square boxes” (55) with no commentary from Jon. I CAN’T IMAGINE WHAT THOSE ARE FOR.
Jon keeps exhibiting the traditional behavior of literary Victorian women, eg “I sat down and simply cried” (57). I don’t blame Jonathan AT ALL for freaking out 24/7 while he’s in a vampire’s house. But it’s really interesting to me how far this book goes with it, considering that in most Victorian literature the women are constantly having fits of hysterics and attacks of the vapors while the men run off to do the deadly deeds. COMMENTS?
Jon also seems to fear that his experiences in Castle Dracula may have tainted him spiritually or something, implied by when he is considering escape and hoping that “the dreaded Hereafter may be open to me” (58). He doesn’t want to die but also doesn’t want to be damned to hell and I don’t really understand what is going on here, to be honest.
So far I am picturing Dracula as a dragon/leech/basilisk hybrid. Y/N?
“What sort of place had I come to, and among what kind of people? What sort of grim adventure was it on which I had embarked? Was this a customary incident in the life of a solicitor’s clerk sent out to explain the purchase of a London estate to a foreigner?” (Stoker 21)
Jonathan Harker, a solicitor, begins as the narrator of Dracula. So let’s talk about this guy. He keeps a pretty descriptive journal for your average traveling lawyer. His account of his travels into Transylvania begins as a straightforward travelogue; he’s doing his best to describe the countryside, people and customs as accurately as possible. Obviously, though, his bias is real strong in favor of English Protestants. I like how he is judging the locals for all their superstitions, eg the sign against the evil eye, but HE HIMSELF has lots of uncomfortable feelings about wearing the rosary he is given by a local (10). Dear old Jon has lots of superstitions of his own that he doesn’t even notice. Again, he’s judging the locals for being so ignorant and quaint, but clearly the locals know a lot that he doesn’t. Like, say, LOCAL COUNTRYSIDE VAMPIRISIM? Even more hilarious is when, after their previous efforts have failed, they try to keep Jon from meeting up with Dracula’s coachman by getting him to the meeting place ahead of time. “SORRY, ENGLISH GUY, NO ONE HERE, SORRY, WE TRIED EVERYTHING, NOW LET’S GO HOME” (15). No one can say they didn’t do their best for the English idiot running off into bat country.
In spite of his terrifying carriage ride, Jonathan tries to keep up with his travelogue, describing the Count, the castle, and the history and culture he learns from the Count. Even when Dracula doesn’t show up in mirrors (34), Jon tries to remain the stodgy English solicitor – his travelogue doesn’t really give up and die until Jonathan sees Dracula crawling across the castle like a giant scary spiderman (44). After that, we’re pretty solidly in horror-genre territory. Jon seems to give up on his cute little Memos, too: “Mem. This diary seems horribly like the beginning of the ‘Arabian Nights,’ for everything has to break off at cockcrow—or like the ghost of Hamlet’s father.)” (39). THAT’S NOT A RECIPE, JON.
On Twitter, @baubitt pointed out Jonathan’s weird sexism toward ladies in olden times. Further, it’s fascinating that Jon identifies more to a woman writing love-letters than to Wallachian warlords (46). Like, he doesn’t wander around the castle looking at tables and saying “in ages past some striking manly bloodthirsty warrior type made his ill-spelt plans UPON THIS VERY TABLE.” He’s also meeting basic requirements for the damsel in distress trope thus far: trapped in a castle, at the mercy of a masculine Gothic villain, wanders around at night against orders, is almost gang-kissed by lady vampires….Honestly, the scene with all the vampires fighting over Jon is the kind of quality content I’m here for. Although their discussion about Dracula’s ability to love is terrifying and strange: what do you make of it?
A few notes on our jolly old Count:
-the coachman is definitely him, right? Right?
-Dracula is not a sexy vampire so far (24-25). Where did the sexy vampire trope come from?
-he’s a smart dude. He knows that language is power – he wants to be seen as a master and knows he has to master the local language to do so (27-28). I like how many times he asks Jon how to really blend in with the natives, wink wink nudge nudge.
-“Why, there is hardly a foot of soil in this region that has not been enriched by the blood of men, patriots or invaders” (29). BLOOD. BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD.
Technology Sighting! I like Jonathan’s cutting-edge shorthand diary and how proud he is of it: “It is nineteenth century up-to-date with a vengeance. And yet, unless my senses deceive me, the old centuries had, and have, powers of their own which mere ‘modernity’ cannot kill” (46). You go, babe.
What are your thoughts so far? Feel free to comment below, and remember to check out the #dracAlong hashtag on twitter/instagram!
I’m not too far into my reread of Dracula, but I wanted to point out a couple of things to pay attention to before we get too far.
It’s been a while since I’ve read Dracula, and I always remember Mina more than anyone (because, obviously, Mina). But I was amused to seet the first mention of her in one of Jonathan’s little memos: “Mem. get recipe for Mina” (Stoker 5).
That’s right, I guess we have to hang out with our good friend Jon for a while, don’t we? Oh well. It’s okay, because we can entertain ourselves with memos!
“Mem. I must ask the Count all about them” (6). Good luck with that, Jon.
“Mem. I must ask the Count about these superstitions” (11). Jon, no. Jon. JON.
All I’m saying is, if Jon had asked Mina about superstitions and the Count about recipes, things might have Turned Out Differently. Keep an eye out for more memos.
Another thing to look out for: possible disguises. On this reread I’m wondering, is the barking dog under Jonathan’s window secretly Dracula??? Why else is the barking dog even mentioned, when dear Jon hasn’t even made it anywhere near to Castle Dracula yet? PONDER PONDER.
Third thing: TECHNOLOGY. One of my favorite things about this book is the mix of Gothic horror with cutting-edge Victorian tech. Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories do the same thing, only in the mystery genre. So far I’ve only come across Jonathan’s Kodak camera (what a cool dude) but I know there’s plenty more to come.
Fourth and last thing that is sorta tied to thing three: Dracula starts out as a travelogue, narrated by our foreign correspondent Jonathan.Stay alert for the racial stereotypes but also pay attention to when the genre shifts, and how it does so.
Dracula by Bram Stoker (in which Mina and her many boyfriends hunt monsters) has all the spine-tingles of a good horror story and all the wordcraft of a classic. I’m rereading one of my favorite books, starting September 5th. I’m hoping to finish by Halloween, as if right and proper. Please join me!
I’ll be posting here a couple of times a week with quotes, questions, and random observations/commentary. Any page number references will be to my copy, the Barnes and Noble 2003 paperback. I might do some extra reading on JSTOR or other weird places; if I find anything interesting, I’ll link it.
Starter question: Have you read Dracula before? Is there an edition or cover that you particularly love? I keep meaning to take a peek at The New Annotated Dracula because it sounds hilarous and awesome.